Obesity is a fickle beast and it is a disease that has become an epidemic in the North American dog population. When a dog is overweight, it opens them up to being much more susceptible to a host of potentially fatal diseases, like heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Obesity is a preventable and manageable disease and there are things you can do as a pet owner to keep your dog in a healthy state. Here are 8 tips and tricks to help prevent obesity and help chunky pups on their weight loss journey.
Weigh and body condition score consistently
One of the reasons that obesity is so high in the pet population is that a lot of dog owners do not know what a healthy body shape looks like in dogs. Many pet parents relate a healthy human body shape to a healthy dog body shape and unfortunately this leads many owners astray. As a result a lot of dog owners aren’t even aware that their dogs may be overweight.
Furthermore, many owners rely on body weight as the sole indicator of body condition. While it is important to weigh your dog, this is not always an accurate measurement. Even within their specific breeds, body size can vary greatly. This is why even though your dog may weigh within the “breed standard” range, a healthy body condition may still be over/under this measurement.
Weighing your dog consistently does still hold some value however. Weighing your dog will help to track changes in their weight. This way you can note if they are gaining or losing an abnormal amount of weight.
The most accurate way to identify if a dog is overweight is through a visual and physical examination. You want to look for a visible tuck and for the ribs to be palpable (but not protruding). Utilizing a body condition score chart is the best reference to use and rank your dog accordingly.
The best first step to eliminating obesity is by being able to identify it. The way to do this in dogs is by correctly weighing and body condition scoring routinely.
Feed based on calorie requirements
Overfeeding is one of the most common reasons for obesity. This is usually because owners aren’t even aware that they are feeding their dog too much. A survey conducted by Kabo of 2,000 Canadian dog owners found that 60% of pet parents use a standardized scoop/measuring cup to measure out their dog’s food. While this means that dogs are getting a consistent amount of food, they may not be getting the correct quantity of food.
Pet food is not created equal and different types of food have a different calorie content. This is why using a standardized scoop is an inaccurate way of portioning food, as it does not account for caloric differences between different types of food.
Furthermore, different dogs have different calorie requirements depending on variables like age, sex, activity, level, etc. The feeding guide on pet food labels is just a general recommendation and does not take into account the calorie requirements of specific dogs.
The best way to avoid overfeeding is by feeding according to calorie content and calorie requirements. This requires a little bit of (easy) math. Check out our blog to determine how to feed your dog according to calorie requirements! Once you figure out the weight of food that your dog needs, you can adapt that into a standardized scoop. Alternatively, certain pet food companies, like Kabo, personalize your pet’s food and provide you with food based on your dog’s specific caloric needs.
Keep the treats to a minimum
We all love to give our dogs treats when they’re being good boys and girls. Treats are great in moderation and are the perfect motivator when it comes to training. However, sometimes owners have trouble limiting the amount of treats they feed their dogs.
The total amount of treats that dogs receive should only contribute to 10% of their total diet. Try to only feed treats as a reward for good behavior and keep treats to a minimum of 1-2 commercial treats per day.
Commercial treats are usually packed with fatty, unhealthy ingredients and like a bag of potato chips, are just empty calories. If you want to feed your dog extra treats, opt for some healthy, low calorie treats like fruits and veggies. If you feed your dog healthy treat options, you’re winning with both quantity and quality of the treats you can feed. We find our dogs specifically like raspberries, apples, blueberries, carrots and peas!
No table scraps
In general it is not a good idea to feed dogs table scraps. There are many spices, sauces and flavours in human food that are toxic and harmful to dogs and should be avoided all together. On the other hand, human food also tends to be much higher in calories than pet food. These extra calories greatly contribute to obesity.
Keep them full with fibre
It seems like some dogs could eat until they explode. Help curb their hunger by adding healthy sources of fibre to their diet. Fibre is broken down very slowly in the digestive system. This keeps dogs fuller for longer and keeps them from snooping around the house for extra food. Some of our favourite fibre options are ground flax, chia seeds, fruits and veggies.
Activity and exercise
It’s no big secret that exercise is a major part of a healthy lifestyle and losing weight. Exercise burns the extra calories that dogs get from their food and reduces the storage of unused energy as fat.
Fortunately, exercise with dogs is fun and can be done in many different ways! Exercise doesn’t just necessarily need to be a walk or a run. There are many more activities that dogs love and get them moving. Some of these activities include:
Dog sports (agility, fly ball, etc.)
Learning a trade (search and rescue, hunting, etc.)
Fetch or retrieval
Playing with other dogs at the park or daycare
And many more!
Physical stimulation is important for dogs but mental stimulation is equally important! Mental games are great for burning calories and keeping dogs occupied. Food puzzles specifically are a great tool to use. They get dogs thinking as they must figure out how to get the food out of the puzzle.
Another benefit of food puzzles is that it slows down dogs from engulfing their food. This reduces indigestion and helps keep dogs full!
Your vet is probably your best reference for letting you know if your dog is in healthy body condition. Don’t be ashamed to ask your vet if you think your dog may be on the chonkier side. They will have some great recommendations for you and may even be able to help your dog out with a weight loss plan.
Alternatively, if you find your dog is having a hard time losing weight (even though you're doing everything right), there may be an underlying reason. Certain hormonal and metabolic diseases, like hypothyroidism, can make dogs more susceptible to weight gain. If this is the case, dogs may need prescription medication or supplements to correct this imbalance in the body. Consult your vet if you think this may be the case!